A lot of students struggle with academic research because it can be complex and confusing. The good news is that there are several steps you can take to understand the research process and produce amazing results at the same time. By following these 10 steps, you will master academic research in no time at all!
How to Master Academic Research
Step 1: Understand the Assignment
Before you can start researching, you need to understand what your professor is looking for. Read the assignment sheet carefully and make sure you understand the task at hand. If you’re unsure about anything, ask your professor for clarification.
You don’t want to spend hours on a research project only to find out that it’s not what they wanted after all. Be clear from the beginning so you know exactly what to do.
Step 2: Review Related Literature
Conducting a literature review will help you get an idea of what has been done in the past and what needs to be done in the future. It is also a good way to see what other scholars have said about your topic.
When reviewing the literature, make sure to take note of any gaps that you see.
These gaps may be areas that you can focus on in your research. The literature review should not just cover journal articles, but it should also include books and articles written by experts in the field.
If there are not enough sources for your area of interest, consider contacting a professor who specializes in this subject area. Professors usually have unpublished materials or recent publications that they would be willing to share with you.
You can also consult with a librarian at your university or public library to find out if they know of any resources that could be helpful. Your academic advisor might also know if there are any journals or databases available through their university subscription which would provide more information on your topic.
Step 3: Determine Key Questions to Answer
Before you can start your research, you need to identify the key questions that you want to answer.
These questions will help guide your research and keep you on track. Once you have your key research questions, you can start brainstorming where to find information to answer them.
Here are some tips for identifying key questions:
- Start with a broad question and then narrow it down.
- Make sure your question is specific enough that it can be answered in a few pages.
- Brainstorm different keywords related to your topic.
- Identify other people who have researched similar topics.
- Talk to an expert or someone who has knowledge of the topic at hand.
You want to ask yourself these questions before you do any research:
- What are my key points?
- What kind of data do I need?
- Where am I going to find this data?
- How much time am I willing to put into this project?
Ultimately, determining key questions will keep you focused during your research. It also helps if you take the time to establish boundaries as well as set realistic expectations for yourself so that when things get tough, you don’t lose sight of what’s important.
For example, make sure not to spend too much time researching unimportant details just because they’re interesting (this applies especially if you’re working on a really tight deadline). As soon as something goes off-track or starts taking up too much of your valuable time and energy, cut it out!
Step 4: Use Library Resources
The library is a great place to start your academic research. Not only do they have a wealth of resources, but the staff is also usually very helpful.
When using the library for research, be sure to take advantage of the following resources:
- The catalog: This can help you find books, articles, and other materials on your topic.
- The reference desk: The reference desk is a great place to get started with your research.
In most cases, librarians, are always happy to answer any questions that you may have about the resources that are available in the library. They can also give you more information about how to use the catalog and other databases in order to locate sources relevant to your topic.
Step 5: Conduct a Thorough Search
When you’re conducting research for an essay, it’s important to not just stop at the first few sources you find. A thorough search will help you find the best information for your argument. Start by searching in databases and on Google Scholar. Then, move on to more specific searches on Google and other search engines. Finally, don’t forget to check out physical sources like books and articles in library databases.
The key is to read as many different perspectives as possible before starting any kind of work. That way, you’ll be better equipped with ideas for how to craft a thesis that stands up against all these arguments.
Step 6: Evaluate the Quality of Sources
Not all sources are created equal. When you’re doing academic research, it’s important to evaluate the quality of your sources.
Here are some things to look for:
- Credentials: Does the author have the appropriate credentials?
- Bias: Is the author biased?
- Objectivity: Is the information presented objectively?
- Date: Is the information up-to-date?
- Relevance: Is the information relevant to your topic?
Remember to primarily use peer-reviewed sources. You can tell if a source is peer-reviewed by looking at where the document came from. If it comes from a journal or university, then it is most likely considered a high-quality source.
Also, remember that not everything published in a journal is automatically credible; check who published it and what its credibility is in the field.
Step 7: Format Citations
When it comes time to format your citations, you’ll want to be sure to do so correctly.
Depending on the citation style you’re using, there will be different rules for how to format your citations. If you’re unsure of how to format your citations, be sure to consult a style guide or ask your professor for help.
There are many citation styles that are accepted in academia; however, when writing a research paper you should use one of the following styles: APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), Chicago Manual Style, and Turabian’s Manual Style.
All of these have some similarities but they also have differences in order, spacing, and punctuation. Be sure to check with your professor before making any formatting decisions so that you can pick the correct style.
Step 8: Manage Reference Lists and Bibliographies
A reference list is a complete list of all the sources that you have used in your paper. A bibliography is a list of all the sources you have used in your research, whether or not you have cited them in your paper.
Both are important when it comes to academic research.
Here are some tips for managing them
- Create a file folder on your computer and name it research.
- Save any source files (like PDFs) in this folder.
- Sort the files by category (for example, articles from journals should be one folder and articles from books should be another).
- Add this file folder to the file manager on your computer so that it shows up whenever you open the program.
- Every time you use a new source in your paper, copy the citation into the appropriate place in your document and make sure that it corresponds with the information in your reference list.
Rememer to create subfolders within your research folder if necessary to keep things organized. You can also create separate folders within this folder if there are different types of papers you’re working on at once.
For example, if you’re writing an essay about classical music and an essay about contemporary art, create two folders: research-classical and research-contemporary. Then save all the materials related to each type of research under those two labels. When it’s time to write your paper, simply choose which topic you want to work on.
The subfolders will automatically filter out anything that doesn’t pertain to that topic. You may also want to include references for course readings in this folder as well.
Just remember never let go of the physical copies of your references–these will come in handy when trying to find something specific without having access to internet search engines.
Step 9. Review Academic Research Tips
True masters are always learning and honing their skills. Even if you’ve mastered the nine steps above, never stop reading about research and writing tips.
Look for blogs like this one that gives advice on how to write more effectively, how to make your research more accessible, and how to reach academic audiences with your work.
You might also want to read up on rhetorical strategies that help avoid some of the common pitfalls in academic writing like using passive voice or hedging. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, try experimenting with a new style of writing.
Step 10. Revise Your Work
Always take the time to revise your work. This step is important for two reasons.
First, it allows you to catch any errors or typos that you may have missed in the first pass.
Second, it gives you a chance to improve the quality of your work by making sure that each sentence is clear and concise.
Do not be afraid to completely rewrite paragraphs if they do not flow well together. You will likely find yourself rewriting sentences more than once before the end of this process as well. It can sometimes feel like you are never done with your paper, but taking the time to ensure that everything flows smoothly will pay off in the long run.
The final revision should be a product that makes sense and is free from grammatical errors.
As you think about how to improve your writing and academic research, it’s also worth thinking about your audience.
You can choose whether or not you want readers who are external experts in your field, but always bear in mind that internal (aka academic) audiences have a different language and set of values than outside (aka layman) ones.
For example, internal audiences are often more skeptical because they’ve been exposed to more writers, so they’re on high alert for logical fallacies and other deceptive tricks.
Like any skill, you get better at academic research the more you do it. One way to start is by finding someone who is already doing what you want to do and asking them for feedback. In fact, one-on-one feedback sessions with peers has been shown to be more effective than anything else when it comes to improving performance over time.
There’s no shame in talking to someone else about what’s going well and what isn’t—in fact, this can be a really good idea if you feel like nobody understands where you’re coming from.